Sound and vision blog

16 June 2010

Voices of the UK - The British Library’s new searchable online resource for Regional English

We have been working on the BBC Voices collection for about fifteen months now, and have been studying conversations from the South East and South West of England, Wales, and from another large segment across the North of England. This means we have listened to groups of speakers from St Albans to St Helens, from Blackpool to Blackwater (Essex) and from Worthing to Workington. Each recording is fascinating and we are constantly surprised and delighted by each group's set of words for the key concepts they were asked about, and their attitudes to English and the other languages they speak.

In each recording we not only summarise what the people talk about, but how they say it too, so that we can build our online resource for Regional English. This will be a web-based search tool allowing you to pick out different recordings according to lots of different criteria. You might want to extract and listen to clips from all the recordings of men over 50 in Northern Ireland, or all the 18-25 year-olds in the South West of England to see what they have in common and what varies across the way they speak.

But you'll also be able to search the resource in a new and (we believe!) more interesting and accurate way, because you will also be able to target recordings according to whether the speakers use specific pronunciations or structures. Want to pull out all the speakers who pronounce ‘look’ exactly the same as ‘Luke’ or who pronounce the [r] at the end of words like ‘car’ and ‘hear’? You'll be able to do that.

Or how about all the speakers who regularly use the word like to frame who's saying what in a conversation? You can do that too. Here's an example of what linguists call ‘quotative like’ from an interview recorded by BBC Coventry and Warwickshire in the collection:

I was talking English to my sister saying oh he's this he's that and he was like I do know what you're saying and I was like [laughter] oh my god I didn't actually think they'd understand it.

You can listen to this extract on the BBC Voices site by clicking here. These changes in the functions of the word like and the way that our interviewees feel about it are one of the things we'll be posting about on the blog in the coming weeks.

Comments

I must be missing something, but I can't actually find the resource. Should I be looking somewhere on this page, http://www.bl.uk/voicesoftheuk, or is this a preview post for a database that's not available yet?

Hi Kerry.

Yes, I'm afraid this is not an actual announcement of the resource just yet, because we're still working on it.

It will be live by the end of the project in February 2012. In fact we'll be beta testing it before then. I have your address, and can notify you when it's happening.

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